Starting with a small donation of Rs 10, this man has collected over Rs 10 crores to help 6 lakh patients who cannot afford to pay for their medical treatment. Read the story of Naginbhai Shah, an 86-year-old man who still works with the dedication of a 20-year-old to bring relief and hope to the lives of thousands in Ahmedabad. “Everyone lives. But to live while doing something for other people is what matters the most. I get complete satisfaction, loads of blessings and a lot of happiness. This is my meditation,” says 86-year-old Naginbhai Shah about his work.
Naginbhai is the founder of Dardionu Rahat Fund, an organization based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He has taken up the responsibility of helping patients who cannot afford medical treatment in hospitals – those who have no money to pay for their medicines, check-ups, surgeries, etc.
The Fund was born in 1964 with a small donation of Rs. 10 and, since then, Naginbhai and his group of volunteers have collected over Rs. 10 crores! They have helped with the treatment of more than 6 lakh patients.
“My son was about three years old when he fell sick and had to be admitted to the hospital. I was a middle class man back then and was searching for a job. I didn’t have the money required for his treatment,” recalls Naginbhai about the time when he first became motivated to do something for the underprivileged.
He had his asthmatic son admitted to the hospital for treatment and went to an old friend to borrow some money. On returning with a sum of Rs. 25, Naginbhai encountered a woman who had come from a nearby village. She was there with her eight year old son and was weeping when Naginbhai met her.
“I asked her why she was crying. After some hesitation she told me that her child needed an operation and the doctor had informed her that the total expenditure would be Rs. 25. She had come with only Rs. 10 from her village. And now, she was left with just Rs. 6. I don’t know what came over me but without thinking for a second I immediately gave her the Rs. 25 that I had borrowed,” he says.
Naginbhai had to go out and borrow some money for his son once again but he was happy that the child he helped recovered after the operation. “My son recovered too. And after some time I got a job as well. After that, I started believing that my job and my son’s health were all the result of the blessings of that woman,” he adds.
It was sometime around then that an idea began to take shape within him. “What if I came to the hospital for half an hour each day and helped one or two people with whatever money I could arrange?” he thought. The year was 1964. Naginbhai discussed the idea with some friends. He was amazed when he asked if they would be willing to help with Rs. 10 – they gave him Rs. 51 instead. “I was surprised. I was asking for small amounts and people were giving a lot more,” says Naginbhai.
And that’s how it all started. Naginbhai would regularly ride his bicycle to the hospital near his home, identify the people who needed help and take care of all their medical expenses with the money he had collected from his friends.
Today, after about half a decade, this generous man is still dedicated to his service. He has a team of five volunteers and they go out every evening at 5 pm to Sheth V. S. General Hospital, Jivraj Mehta Hospital, and some other hospitals in Ahmedabad. In the general wards of these hospitals, they move from one bed to another, talking to the patients there. They chat with them to find out where they are from, their professions, how much money they make, etc.
In this manner, they are able to identify those who need their help the most.
We ‘adopt’ these people and help them with everything they need – be it an MRI, a CT Scan, some medicines, an operation, or anything else. But we make sure that the patient does not go home untreated.” The small team raises money by speaking to people across the city – friends, acquaintances, family, strangers – anyone who can help them with funds. “Sometimes, when we reach the hospital, we find the doctors, staff and some patients waiting for us. The doctors ask those who cannot afford treatment to wait till we come,” says Naginbhai.
“We know what we do is just a drop in the ocean. We cannot go out and help every poor person who cannot pay his/her medical bills. But we have decided that whoever we help, we will help completely and won’t leave that person’s treatment half way. The money involved could be Rs. 10,000 or Rs. 50,000, or more. But once we tell a person we will help, we don’t back out,” he adds.
Naginbhai lives with his son who is working in Ahmedabad. He is extremely frugal with his expenses.
His team works with him for free and there are three trustees who help him take care of the finances of the Fund.
“My family does not support me a lot. But I have stopped expecting anything from them. The people support me. Donors send in money blindly. Last year, I collected Rs. 1.55 crores and spent Rs 1.48 crores on the patients. No money is spent on administration.”
His team also provides patients with fruits, hearing aids, artificial limbs, etc. It is mostly by word of mouth that donors reach Naginbhai. One such donor is Suresh Ruparel. He’s been associated with Naginbhai for the last five years.
“Once I visited a hospital and asked if I could donate money for someone and how I could find a genuine case. The hospital staff told me about Naginbhai. Actually, my mother died in that hospital and I could not reach in time. That’s why I really wanted to help someone there. Naginbhai maintains a very good relationship with all regular donors. I keep aside a portion of my salary for him every month,” he says.
Naginbhai sure has the blessings of the woman he first helped with Rs. 25. And many more now. We wish this 86-year-old a long life and many more years of dedicated service.
By Mahendra Galani